Wondering how to dress if you’re short and stout? This post is for you, my friend!
Short men come in all shapes and sizes. When it comes to dressing well, all mend of modest height are familiar with some common frustrations (like pants being too long).
But other problems are body type specific, and it’s important to understand how your individual build affects your style choices.
This post is for my short, stout and hefty (or, if you want to be blunt, short and fat) brethren.
What does “stout” mean?
What exactly does stout mean, you ask? Hefty, portly, rotund, stocky, heavyset…you get the point.
This post isn’t really geared toward the athletic body type, which features broad shoulders and a narrow waist.
Instead, this post is for the man whose torso is as wide or wider than his shoulders. You may have some extra weight around your midsection, or you may be “built like a fire hydrant” as one reader put it.
Either way, I’ll teach you how to dress in a way that flatters the stout body type.
Here’s the Problem…
The biggest style problem short, stout men face is inconsistent fit. Clothes that fit okay on one part of your body fit terribly everywhere else.
Here are some examples:
- Pants that fit around your waist are way too long.
- Pants that fit in the seat and thighs are too wide and baggy around your calves and ankles.
- Shirts that fit around your stomach are too long to wear untucked.
- Shirts that fit up top (neck, shoulders, chest) are too big everywhere else (like the sleeves).
The list goes on, but you get the point. It’s a problem of proportion. You can’t find anything that really fits and flatters your specific build.
If it’s the right length, it’s too tight. If it’s the right width, it’s too long. Story of your life, right?
I’m going to give you three solutions to this problem, but first I want to cover some basic do and don’t guidelines for short and fat men.
DOs and DON’Ts
Don’t wear baggy clothes to “cover up” your weight. It has the exact opposite effect.
It may seem counterintuitive, but clothes that are a bit for fitted will actually de-emphasize your weight, rather than drawing more attention to it.
On the other hand, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) wear tight or skinny fit clothing. This will emphasize your weight even more than baggy clothing.
Do wear fitted clothes that sit close to your body, and avoid excess fabric.
Don’t wear pants with too much taper through the leg (“skinny” fit).
Do wear pants with a gently tapered leg and slim leg opening (“slim-straight” fit).
Don’t wear low rise pants that sit below your belly.
Do wear mid or high rise pants that sit at your natural waist, well above your hip bones.
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Do wear pants with suspenders or side tabs when possible (can be more comfy). Use suspenders to “float the waist” instead of letting your belly sit over your waistband.
Don’t wear belts unless you have to (especially if they aren’t comfortable).
Don’t wear big, bold patterns.
Do stick with solid colors and small scale patterns.
Do learn the rules for dressing taller than every shorter man should know.
Here’s an example of two of my favorite modest men – Daymond John and Robert Herjavec – making it look easy:
Notice the impeccable fit, higher waistlines, small patterns, solid colors and proportionate details. These are some dapper sharks!
It’s highly likely that their suits are bespoke because the truth is: If you’re short and stout, it’s almost impossible to find clothes that fit properly off the rack.
Clothes simply aren’t made for your build. Major retailers have chosen to ignore your segment of the population for logistical and economical reasons.
It sucks. Trust me, I feel your pain. But we can’t change that, so let’s talk about what we can do about it.
Here are a few solutions:
Get Your Clothes Tailored
Tailoring is the secret weapon of stylish men, especially those of us with non-average dimensions.
For short, hefty gents, tailoring is dually important. The question is which alterations are most important? It comes down to two factors:
- What can and cannot be fixed
- What different alterations cost
Luckily, you can learn all about that from the Clothing Alterations page. For now, I’ll summarize what you need to know.
Shirts & Jackets
Find shirts that fit in the shoulders, neck and chest. Sleeves can be shortened, and the midsection can be taken in, but it’s prohibitively difficult and expensive to alter the shoulders.
When in doubt, size up to accommodate your neck and chest, then get the sleeves and body shortened at the tailor.
Pants & Shorts
Find pants that fit in the seat, crotch and thighs. Make sure the rise (distance from the top of the waistband to the bottom of the crotch) is okay.
Pants can be hemmed and tapered by any decent tailor, and adjusting the waist is just as easy. But it’s much harder to fix the seat, hips and rise.
Your best strategy is to buy full-cut clothes and get them taken in as needed.
Shop Speciality Brands
There are a handful of small apparel companies catering to shorter men. I’m not talking about the “big and tall” section of the department store.
I’m talking about companies like Under 510, Ash & Erie and Peter Manning that make clothes exclusively for shorter men.
You can find a full list of these companies on this page: Clothes for Short Men
These niche clothiers don’t just chop a couple of inches off the bottom of mass-manufactured pants and call it a day. They actually create new patterns from scratch with proportions that work for men under 5’9″.
Yes, you have to buy online (for the most part). Yes, it can be more expensive. And yes, it’s totally worth it.
Buy Custom Clothing
For dress shirts and suits, you might want to go custom. It’s especially important for dress clothes to fit well, and the cost of alterations adds up quickly – especially for suits and jackets.
Whether you visit a bespoke tailor or order from online made-to-measure company, custom clothing requires effort and patience.
But for short, stout men, going custom is one way to achieve proper fit that isn’t possible with off the rack clothing.
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If there’s one thing that will make you look and feel amazing, it’s a high quality suit that fits your body perfectly.
So, even if you only wear a suit and dress shirt a couple of times each year, it makes sense to invest in one custom made ensemble for those special occasions.
If you don’t want to spend a ton of money, check out Indochino, one of the best affordable MTM options.
Pay Attention to Proportion
Broad, stocky men should avoid thin, dainty details like slim lapels and skinny ties. Compared to your breadth, these details and accessories will look too small, which makes you look wider.
Opt for normal lapels and neckties (around 3″ wide at their widest point). While we’re on the topic, stay away from small tie knots like the four in hand. A half Windsor will look more natural against your neck and chest.
When choosing shirt collars, go for medium spread collars. They’ll look great against a thicker neck, especially if you use a hefty tie knot.
Same goes for watches. If you have thick wrists and fingers, wear a watch that has some substance and weight to it. Anything smaller than 40mm might look comically small on your wrist.
Putting It All Together
When you pay attention to details and get everything right, the results are amazing. Here’s a little inspiration from some short, stout, stylish men:
Pretty sharp, eh? Just goes to show that anyone can dress well, regardless of body type. It just takes effort.
Did I miss anything? Chime in by leaving a comment below!
Rashmi Gupta says
Nice, thanks for sharing information with us.
Hello, great article.
At 5’4″ & 230 lbs it is very difficult to find anything to fit properly. And it doesn’t help when there isn’t a standard for basic s,m,l,xl,xxl,+++ sizes one companies xl is far different than another’s. So ordering an xl online is very risky and even when I have ordered a 40″ w x 28 L they still get it wrong, my measurement read 37.5 inches w and 29 inches L. So I hate ordering custom online. And I’m on disability so my budget is very tight not much wiggle room to have $100 tied up waiting for a credit. Fortunately I hate to mention this company but Walmart has surprised me with a huge increase in clothing quality. I bought a pair of dark grey pants that has a slight taper and is slightly stretchy (needed after dinner), they sit very comfortably without the legs rising to highwater mark and I have gotten several complements on how good they look all for about $20. I know its rediculous but Walmart has stepped up their game with men’s fasion on a budget. Now that would make for a great article. “Men’s Fashion on a Budget”
Outfits for under $100 that also look great.
Pants – $20
Shirt – $20
Shoes – $40
Belt – $10
Sox – $7
You know what, lets see how good you are.
I challenge you to write an article using the above as a guide. I think you would be helping far more guys. And gain a larger audience to boot. As you know there are more low income people than high income people.
You choose the fashion genre, street, hip hop, red carpet, casual, hipster, ???
Thanks for reading, Pablo
I appreciate the article – BUT!!!
You refer to 5’8″, as if this was small [not when you’re only 5’3″].
Sushil Sekhar says he is 5’3″, and has to buy shirts that are M or L. He’s fortunate.
5’3″ and 46″ chest/17″ neck is a problem.
My observation/experience is that the genuinely shorter/stouter man has little or no hope of acceptable clothing.
Rocky Langley says
Great article! I found tips like passing on the smaller ties helpful. The tip of avoiding skinny fit pants while also straying from excess fabric is a winner as well. I find my body type doesn’t get represented well anywhere. I’m short, wide and thick but not chubby/ no belly. The biggest problem is my wide legs. In any modern fit dress pant I usually have to opt for a loose waist fit so that my thighs aren’t stretching seams. It’s either that or get a baggy fit pant that looks terrible.
My son has the same issue, Lee or Levi and other brands (I think Target) offer an “athletic build” styling in pants that have a wider thigh area, but not additional length or wider calves.
Nice tips, especially for the pants – when you have wide hips and a big butt AS WELL as being short & stubby, life can seem rough. Although the stores have opened up a wider sortiment lately, it seems. Not everything is for tall and slim guys anymore!
There is a a picture of someoen wearing a striped suit. I agree on why it looks good, but would like to add: the stripes are vertical! It makes a lot of difference, but hard to find a pattern like that.
Any advice on wearing leather? Jacket, but also leather pants. Is it possible?
hi , Any casual style advice for summer as for how pants and short should look like for short men with really thick legs? my husband have a big bum and thick legs and he’s only 5”6”.. help
Sushil Sekhar says
Thanks for the tips Brock. Being 5’3 and having to buy shirts which are M or L from clothing stores, leaves me really frustrated. Aside from the fact that living in Sweden makes me feel extremely under dressed and not finding the right clothes in stores leaves me extremely flustered. So going by the tone of what is written, I would guess it is almost always wise to go with alterations.
Yet, I am not sure if winter jackets or coats can be altered. Now that it is winter could you give some tips on how to dress up for the winter with regards to coats and jackets?
Thank you so much for this piece! I’m a lady shopping for her 70+ year old father who has put on a lot of weight and has some age related health issues BUT in his day was stylish. I want to find him some clothing that fits and looks good. I think this might do a great deal for his mental health as when you look good you feel good. I had no idea where to start looking for correctly proportional clothing for him, thank you so much for some great jumping off points.
You’re very welcome! Glad it was helpful.
Marsh Williams (@MarshWilliams) says
When it comes to suits, cuffs or no cuffs?
The safer bet is no cuffs, but cuffs are okay too. Just make sure they’re not too tall (like 1.5″ max).
First I’ve heard of them. What’s your experience with the brand? Do you work with them, or have you tried them?
Thanks for this one – it was helpful.
While this one was aimed at the “stocky guy,” I hope you will be covering the short & athletic in the near future. The links that for Peter Everett & Jax are great, but for some of us, their stuff is the right height, but not wide enough. 🙁
Hey Brock, could you do one for short guys with a rather feminine body shape? I’d like to know some tips on not looking so “dainty” and “feminine”. I’ve got narrow shoulders and a fairly large waist/hip area. 34s jacket and 29 pants generally but the hips make it hard for some shirts, etc.
TL:DR Tips for guys with this body type, maybe slightly larger hip area and less shoulder breadth
Better pictures: like the first one or the one on the right.
Bob F. says
Best article yet. With a 44 chest, 34 waist and 29 inseam, I have certainly experienced the issues addressed in this article!
Thanks! Glad to hear this stuff rings true for you.
Jack Henry says
Everyone’s comments are of value and it’s nice to see these things being addressed. For myself I’m a good bit more overweight and I’ve never really worried about these things as I’ve always worked in the construction industry. At 62 I’m now working in an office environment and my jeans (40 x 28 or 29 sometimes 30) which would need to be bigger to pull up to my waist and my 2 XX Pocket T’s just aren’t getting it. Without my work belt on I’m constantly fighting with pulling my pants up and obviously the T-shirt just isn’t getting it. I really hate actual slacks and I just can’t find anything that works. While I don’t have much to spend; it would help if I could find things I could be confident in. Any suggestions would valued. Thanks
Judith Veschi says
My son is 5’4″ and weighs 215 lbs. He will only wear Men’s Haggar® Premium Comfort Straight-Fit Flat-Front Dress Pants, They look great on him. They have a tapered leg. You should look for “straight fit”. You can buy them from Target for $40.
david guetzow says
Ditto! At 42 chest, 34 w, and 29 inseam, I needed this advice to redo my wardrobe. Maybe someday I’ll get back to a 30 waist, but until then I need to dress batter!
I hate to always be a contrarian here because I do agree with much that is written. Two things. First, if I had that sort of build I would avoid tapered lower legs of any sort. To me they throw the lower body out of proportion. Straight fit is usually the best for the fireplug build, and for most guys really.
In the pictures of the Seinfeld character ( don’t know his name), I don’t think the second picture looks any better than the first. Look at his head. It is big and the tight clothes make it look huge. He looks stuffed into his clothes and a little more fabric would do him well. In truth, the first picture is not great, but I actually prefer it to the second. Tailoring doesn’t always mean close fitting.
I agree with what you are doing Brock, in breaking proper fit for short guys down further. In reality there are so many variables, head size, as I mentioned, is just one example. We can further categorize people by side to side width, front to back, hair style, arm length, proportions of the upper to lower body or a hundred more factors and still we wouldn’t cover everything. There is a gestalt element to fashion that in the end is difficult to break down and systematize. This is why the rules are flexible.
First thing I do when I try something on is to ask myself, “How do I look”, with no reference to any rule about color, fit, placement of any detail, or any rule I know about dressing. Just my first reaction. Then I can start getting into the whys about my reaction and the hows of how to fix it.
Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts! One comment on the straight vs. slim leg. These days, words like that mean almost nothing because vary so much from one brand to another.
Technically, straight leg should mean there’s no taper from the knee down – so the circumference of the pant leg at the knee is the same as at the ankle.
Slim, on the other hand, means there’s some amount of taper. But it could be just an inch or two. It’s totally different depending on the brand and style.
So rather than saying “stout men should wear straight” or “stout men should wear slim”, the best advice is to try it on and see for yourself.
On that note, I like your method of trying things on and being honest with yourself. “How do I look?” is a great place to start.
And yeah, fitting anyone specific body is very complicated. That’s why bespoke suits cost thousands of dollars and take weeks to produce!
For the record, though, I think Jason Alexander looks way better in the fitted suit (although maybe there’s a middle ground that would work better for him).
Great advice! What amazes me is how poorly dressed some actors are. You’d think they’d have access to stylists and PR hacks to help them dress properly especially for red-carpet events.
I know! I’ll never understand how someone ends up in a $5,000 tux with pants that are 4″ too long… I guess money doesn’t solve this particular problem.
A. Davey says
Thank you for the excellent and detailed advice, but especially for making your biog more inclusive. Not only are you doing a service to short men who are stout, you are also helping older short men like me who have added extra pounds over the years.
You’re very welcome! Good point about age. I’m planning on writing more about the older gents too. Definitely lots of crossover there.
David Schleger says
Your thoughts are very much appreciated